You have to go back to 2004 to find the last time the Tennessee Vols got a win over the Florida Gators. Officially, the game was decided by a 50-yard field goal by James Wilhoit with six seconds left, but in reality, it was decided by a personal foul on Florida receiver Dallas Baker, flagged for retaliating against a Vol defensive back who stuck a hand in his face, and inattentive officials who forgot to start the clock on the next play, which gave the Vols an extra 20 or so seconds.
Since then, this once highly competitive series that so often determined the winner of the SEC East Division, has become a yearly notch in Florida’s belt. The 2005 (16-7 Florida win) and 2006 (21-20 Florida win) games were close, but since then they’ve all been decided by 10 or more points. The Vols are 28-45 against the rest of the SEC since 2004 and they’ve suffered through six losing seasons in the last nine including four in a row. Current coach Butch Jones is the fourth coach in that time frame (the others were Phillip Fulmer, Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley).
From 2005-09, Florida’s program was as good as it got anywhere in the country. The Gators went 57-10 and won two national championships in five years. Meyer went 8-5 in 2010 and retired for a year, succeeded by Will Muschamp, who is 24-17 with 13 SEC losses in three years and three games. That’s more SEC losses than Steve Spurrier had in 12 years, which has something to do with antsy Florida fans who wonder what happened and why?
When the Gators (2-1, 1-1 SEC) and Vols (2-2, 0-1 SEC) square off Saturday (12 noon, Neyland Stadium, SEC Network) there are no championships on the line although both teams could still win the SEC East. Championship talk is a long way away. Perceptions are more important Saturday.The perception is that Tennessee is a team on the way up and Florida is a team treading water because of the uncertainty surrounding Muschamp. Among the 102,000 in sold out Neyland Stadium will be a slew of recruits that the Vols hope to impress by knocking off a hated rival. A win and the Vols not only end the streak but impress the recruits it’s going to take to get back to prominence.
The perception on the Florida sideline is that a win will buy time for Muschamp. No one in the SEC needs this win more and while it won’t completely calm the growing number of disgruntled fans who think Florida can and must do better, it will be a boost for both confidence and momentum. With LSU, Missouri and Georgia looming next on the schedule, Muschamp desperately needs his team to extend the Vols streak of futility. A win over the Vols would also offer the perception that Muschamp can coach and win a high pressure game on the road.
It’s been since 1955 that neither Florida nor Tennessee were ranked heading into this game. Neither will be ranked when the dust settles Saturday but perceptions will change one way or the other.
This season: 43-4
Florida (2-1, 1-1 SEC) Tennessee (2-2, 0-1 SEC): The Vols desperately need this one to prove they really are on the way back. The Gators desperately need this one to keep their heads above the water. This is white knuckles all the way, but Florida can run the football and that’s going to be the difference.
#3 Alabama (4-0, 1-0 SEC) over #11 Ole Miss (4-0, 1-0 SEC): There will be no better tailgate in the entire country than the one at The Grove before this game. The game might be pretty darn good, too. It’s tempting to pick Ole Miss in an upset because the Rebels have the toughest defense in the league. But, Alabama’s defense is really good, too, plus when the Crimson Tide has the ball, they can run it. Unless Ole Miss figured out how to run the ball this year, Alabama will win it.
#5 Auburn (4-0, 1-0 SEC) over #15 LSU (4-1, 0-1 SEC): This one has white knuckles written all over it. If LSU loses the Tigers are essentially out of the SEC West race so there is no lack of incentive. Auburn has been playing bored and needs to play a full game on both sides of the ball, which is why it’s a shaky home favorite to stay unbeaten.
#12 Mississippi State (4-0, 1-0 SEC) over #6 Texas A&M (5-0, 2-0 SEC): Can Dangerous Dan Mullen and the pride of Starkvegas make it two signature wins in a row? If Dak Prescott plays lights out, it will happen. If the MSU secondary plays like it did against UAB then we could have 1,400 yards of offense and 120 points.
#13 Georgia (3-1, 1-1 SEC) over Vanderbilt (1-4, 0-3 SEC): Vandy won nine games last year, one of which was Georgia. Hopefully, the Vandy faithful have this one on DVD because they’ll need it to get smiley faces after what Georgia does to the ‘Dores in Athens Saturday.
South Carolina (3-2, 2-2 SEC) over Kentucky (3-1, 1-1 SEC): Now that the 17-game SEC losing streak is a thing of the past, Kentucky has a one-game winning streak to defend. The Wildcats think they can win this one. Steve Spurrier KNOWS the Gamecocks are going to win and that will be the difference.
Norm Chow, Hawaii: Now that June Jones is unemployed maybe the folks at Hawaii can convince him to come back since he’s the only coach who’s made the Rainbow Warriors relevant since the Truman administration. Of course, that would mean canning Norm Chow, which is a matter of if not when.
Brady Hoke, Michigan: They had a really good coach in Lloyd Carr who won a national championship in 1997 and was one play away from playing for the national title in 2006. Since then they’ve run Carr off, hired and fired Rich Rodriguez a year too soon and they’ve endured Brady Hoke, who went 11-2 with Rich Rod’s boys and has taken the program south ever since. Hoke is a goner. The only serious question is does Michigan fire AD Dave Brandon prior to Hoke or after?
Mike London, Virginia: London and his fighting Cadavers have two things going for them. They (1) play in the woefully weak Almost Competitive Conference, which means they can be crappy and still post a winning record and (2) London’s lawyer obviously took lessons from the lawyer of Charlie Weis because he’s got one serious buyout. This week the Cadavers get Pitt, which lost to Little Terry and the Akron Zips last week, in Charlottesville.
Darrell Hazell, Purdue: Saturday’s trip to Illinois is probably the last chance the Boilermakers have to win a game before November 29 when they will face Indiana in a job to see who gets fired first: Hazell or Indiana head man Kevin Wilson? The next four after Saturday are Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin.
Larry Blakeney, Troy: Troy is a 14-point home underdog this week even though the Trojans are idle. It’s been two weeks since the dreaded vote of confidence for Larry Blakeney. They’re classy enough at Troy to let Blakeney finish the season but there are two chances and two chances only that he’s back next year: no way and no how.
Tim Beckman, Illinois: If Beckman and the Illini (3-2) figure out a way to lose to Purdue Saturday (Illini favored by nine) then Beckman can join Purdue coach Darrell Hazell On Life Support. Should the Illini win, it would be a good idea for the faithful to celebrate long and hard because the next three are Wisconsin, Minnesota and Ohio State.
Bob Davie, New Mexico: This week’s opponent is Texas-San Antonio, which has only played Division I football for three years. That a third-year program with a 1-3 record is a 17-point favorite tells you just how bad New Mexico is. They probably can’t get a better coach than Davie, but you’ve got to blame someone, right?
Kevin Wilson, Indiana: This is a schedule made for firing. North Texas comes to town and that’s a winnable game, maybe the last winnable game until November 29 when the season ends with a homer against Purdue. Last week’s blowout loss to Maryland did nothing to enhance Wilson in the eyes of Hoosier fans who were so willing to try (again) to believe after the win at Missouri.
Bill Blankenship, Tulsa: Blankenship is one loss, two at the most, away from going On Life Support. The first two calls to replace him will go to former Tulsa assistants Chad Morris (Clemson offensive coordinator) and Mike Norvell (Arizona State offensive coordinator).
Skip Holtz, Louisiana Tech: First things first. He can’t coach as we discovered when he was at USF and (a) couldn’t win in a pansy conference (Big Least at the time) and (b) couldn’t recruit even though it was Tampa, which is loaded with prospects. If you can’t recruit good kids to play for you when you’re in Tampa, how the heck are you going to get good kids to commit to four years in Ruston. UTEP comes to town Saturday. If the Miners beat LaTech, buzzards will be circling in Ruston.
Bobby Hauck, UNLV: A year ago they loved the guy when he won seven out of 10 games and got the Rebels to a bowl game. Now they can’t go to a bowl because they haven’t met NCAA minimum academic standards. Not that they could go anyway. They’re 1-4 and all four losses have been decisive. Saturday’s game against San Jose State will be a chance for one of the two teams to break a 3-game losing streak. Smart money is on San Jose State.
Paul Petrino, Idaho: The highlight moments of the season are a rainout against Florida and a shockingly close 7-point loss at Louisiana-Monroe. Since then it’s been downhill. The Vandals will be going for their 12th consecutive loss Saturday at Texas State. There isn’t a winnable game on the schedule until they face Troy in the Kibbie Dome on November 15.
Will Muschamp, Florida: Win and Muschamp buys another week. Lose and the buzzards start circling on Lemerand Drive.
Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia: The Mounties have the ultimate get well game Saturday because the Cheeseburgerless Kansas Jayhawks come to Morgantown. This will be win #3 which puts Holgorsen halfway to a bowl game, which, along with his ridiculous buyout, saves his skin.
Randy Edsall, Maryland: After Ohio State polishes off the Turtles Saturday, the calls to fire Edsall will heard loud in College Park. They’ll still be loud at the end of the year but there are just enough winnable games to get the Turtles to a bowl game. A bowl game and Edsall’s ridiculous buyout clause keeps an athletic administration swimming in red ink from the headache of trying to figure out how they are going to politely ask the Under Armour boys for the money it would take terminate him.
Bo Pelini, Nebraska: You have to wonder what happens if Bo runs the table or simply wins the Big Ten? The fans will love him then. But will it be too little, too late? If Bo and the Huskers go to East Lansing and knock off Michigan State this weekend, then everybody will love Bo. If the Huskers lose, then it will be same old, same old which is to say nobody will be naming babies after Bo Pelini nor will even the most rabid of Husker fans get an image of Bo tattooed to their forearm.
Paul Rhoads, Iowa State: The Cyclones “held” Baylor to only 49 points and just 601 yards, both well below their average. Oklahoma State isn’t nearly as good as Baylor, but good enough to win by at least two touchdowns over Iowa State. Rhoads is actually a pretty good coach. His problem is location, location, location.
How important will it be for the Gators to get an early lead so they can take the Neyland Stadium crowd out of Saturday’s game?
When Buffalo Springfield opened for the Beach Boys in the spring of 1968 (Strawberry Alarm Clock and Gary Puckett and the Union Gap were the other two opening bands), it was homecoming for Stephen Stills, who attended Gainesville High School in 1963 before moving to Costa Rica with his family. Once he graduated high school in Costa Rica, he came back to Gainesville for a year before heading to the left coast where he eventually founded Buffalo Springfield along with Richie Furay, Neil Young and Jim Messina. Their first album in 1966 featured “For What It’s Worth” which is considered one of the all-time protest songs.